SINGAPORE - The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on almost every economy in the world, and those which respond well, adapt and transform quickly will emerge stronger and move ahead of the others, Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong told Parliament on Monday (July 26).
"To ensure that we do not get left behind once the dust settles, we must turn this once-in-a-generation crisis into a once-in-a-generation opportunity, to transform our businesses, develop new areas of growth, and strengthen our connections to the global economy," he said in a ministerial statement on the Government's business and economic response to Covid-19.
Mr Gan noted that the Government has delivered eight budgets over the past one and a half years to support businesses and save jobs - including the Supplementary Supply Bill that will be introduced in Parliament on Monday (July 26).
Schemes like the Jobs Support Scheme, Jobs Growth Initiative, rental relief and tax rebates were also introduced, along with enterprise financing schemes. The Government also worked with banks to put a moratorium on loan repayment.
"Together, these efforts have helped avert massive business failures, a much deeper recession, and higher unemployment", Mr Gan said.
Businesses and workers have told officials that while the help has been critical and helpful, they can serve only as "temporary pain relief", and they would prefer to resume their business fully and for the economy to grow again, he said.
Many are therefore transforming their businesses to seek out new opportunities and prepare for the recovery, he said.
But Mr Gan acknowledged it is not easy for businesses to juggle everyday challenges and the need to transform.
This was why the Emerging Stronger Taskforce was set up in May last year to examine Singapore's post-Covid-19 economic strategies. It released its report in May this year and some of the nine public-private partnerships it formed, known as Alliances for Action (AfAs), have delivered promising results.
The minister cited the AfA on Safe and Innovative Visitor Experiences, which he said enabled innovations in safe events for the meetings, incentives, conferencing, exhibitions (Mice) industry, which has provided some relief to the sector while also elevating its international profile.
Mr Gan also said the AfA on Supply Chain Digitalisation created the Singapore Trade Data Exchange (SGTraDex), a piece of digital infrastructure that allows businesses to share trade data with one another in a trusted and safe manner, in response to a growing demand for supply chain transparency and resilience.
Some sectors, such as the financial, infocomm technology, biomedical manufacturing and electronics sectors, are doing well despite the pandemic. Mr Gan said the Government's focus for these sectors is to "add wind to their sails" and help them create new products, forge new partnerships and break into new markets.
In some of these sectors, AfAs have helped identify growth opportunities, the minister said. He said the AfA on medical technology product development, for instance, recognised the increasing prevalence of infectious and chronic diseases, and identified in-vitro diagnostics as one such sub-sector that Singapore can grow.
"We will continue to work closely with industry and partner businesses in this endeavour, to give them the support they need to raise their productivity, innovate, and grow beyond our shores.
"We will also help workers to be ready for the challenges in the new normal. As businesses transform to remain competitive and seize new opportunities, workers will also need to learn new knowledge and acquire new skills. The need for workers to upgrade and upskill is more urgent than ever."
Mr Gan further urged employers to work with the Government and its tripartite partners to upgrade and redesign jobs, as well as invest in workforce training.